Oversupply Of Milk Can Be Stressful For Mom And Baby
Hailey latched and as Jenny's milk let down, she coughed, gasped and pulled away from the breast. Milk was spraying everywhere and Hailey's face was covered in it. She had a confused look on her face and burst out crying.
Jenny was anxious. "What can I do? When I felt my milk letting down, I get nervous because she's choking, then she gets upset and I feel so bad for her."
"I asked the lactation consultants at the hospital and everyone said pretty much the same thing – to pump before she nurses. and if she's gaining weight too quickly or she's fussy and gassy, I should decrease the amount of milk I feed her.
“In addition, Hailey has developed terrible gassiness and her poo is green like spinach. She is so squirmy and uncomfortable after every feed. She lets out these terrible farts and explosive poos.”
What Is Oversupply? Symptoms Of Oversupply
Oversupply is when a mom makes more milk than her baby can eat. Her breasts fill up quickly in the early weeks and months and continue to fill up at 6 to 12 months postpartum. If she skips a feed, she becomes engorged, sometimes painfully, and may have recurring plugged ducts, and even mastitis. Her baby may choke, cough or sputter with the force of the milk and pull away. Babies are often upset and even cry and sometimes, refuse to feed.
Benefits Of Too Much Milk
Parents can relax knowing that their baby will never be hungry. Babies often grow quickly with sumptuous leg and arm rolls and two or three chins are normal! They become a satisfying example of nourishment from human milk. Many moms pump excess milk without effort and proudly donate milk to milk banks and friends and strangers in need of liquid gold. One of my clients donated to 6 different babies along with nourishing her own chubster. Moms who worry about low milk supply may wish they had this situation!
Problems You Don't Need
However, all this abundance can also be as worrisome as low supply. Before a baby learns how to suckle effectively, many gag and choke on the copious flow. They pull away crying and coughing leaving their mama upset at the harm her milk is causing. In addition, the baby may fill up on the first and lower fat milk before fattier milk reaches them. Sugar, protein and fat ratios will be out of balance and this causes the baby to be gassy and uncomfortable. The poop may be green and frothy and may be explosive as well.
For a mom with too much milk, frequent feeds are essential to keep her milk flowing, avoiding uncomfortable engorgement, plugged ducts, and sometimes, mastitis. When all one wants to do is sleep, nothing is worse than waking with full, painful breasts and needing to wake a baby to feed! Sometimes oversupply is present along with overly large breasts which makes every feed in public potentially embarrassing. When your baby is coughing, and your breast is uncovered and spraying milk, you are the center stage in an unpleasant public show. Some moms may stay home or choose to bottle feed in public.
What Causes Oversupply?
An overabundant milk producer has a physical cause in her body for overproducing. She may have a lot of milk-making cells. She may have high levels of hormones that make her juicy and productive! Physical treatment can slow down stimulation using block feeding and positioning techniques to help a baby master the heavy milk flow. Fortunately, hormonal oversupply is not that common.
What Is Common Is Oversupply Caused By Pumping.
Double electric breast pumps were fairly rare 20 years ago and are now standard equipment for breastfeeding moms. In the US, most women get a breast pump for free through insurance. Others can get one from a friend, or relative.
When you consider that 50% of moms are back at work by 6 months postpartum and that milk removal is key to building and maintaining a healthy milk supply, then a double electric pump is a nice option!
So many women worry they don't have enough milk and they start pumping to increase their supply. Maybe they were advised to pump by a health care provider because their baby is not breastfeeding, or not gaining enough weight, even though they are breastfeeding.
Be Prepared if You Google This
If you search breastmilk storage on the internet, you will find tons of pictures of big freezers full of milk "stashes." These parents may, or may not, also tend to prepare for any worse case scenario. In their thinking, if they happen to get run over by a truck, their baby will have human milk until they are one, or sometimes, five years old.
So, with this image of the full freezer, women start to pump like crazy. Pumping thousands of bags of milk becomes the goal. And after a couple of days, which is a normal time to see a bump in your supply, they should slow down but they don't. The next thing you know, their milk is shooting everywhere and their baby is gasping and covered in milk.
The way to prevent, or cure this kind of overproduction is to cut back and eventually eliminate overpumping until your supply is normal. Normal means: You make enough milk for your baby, and not extra.
Overproduction's Overactive Cousin
A related and often concurrent problem, is overactive letdown. An overactive letdown is best described as a sudden burst of milk that literally shoots across the room. After an initial, vigorous spray, it calms and slows to a normal flow. This can happen in any woman, but when a woman has overproduction, milk keeps coming out in a heavy flow.
How To Fearlessly Reduce Your Milk Supply
It may seem scary or counter intuitive to reduce your milk supply, but know that you can reverse this if you want to.
1. Try repositioning you and your baby so your baby is above and your breast is below. This helps baby take a bigger mouthful of breast which positions the nipple and milk flow further back where they can handle more milk. (This is also called the Australian Hold because the breast is "Down Under."
2. You might also try positioning your baby vertically, up and down on your body as you recline. (This is also called the "Koala Hold" because, Koalas do it.)
3. If your baby pulls off, catch the milk in a towel until it slows, then encourage the baby to reattach.
4. If your baby has green poop or is very gassy, feed on one side for all feeds in a 2 hour block. Switch to the other side for two hours and then in the third block of two hours back to the first side. I have had clients use blocks of 2 - 6 hours with good results.
4. You may be tempted to pump to try and get all the milk out. Don't! Remember that empty breasts make milk. The fuller your breast is, the less milk your body will make. (This is what you want.) Of course, you can always pump excess if you prefer. You may soon find yourself with a mega-stash and you can always donate your milk to help others.
How To Live With Oversupply
When your milk is flowing like a faucet and your baby is coughing and gagging, you may wonder if it will ever end.
Jenny found that it was very difficult for the first four to six weeks and after that she learned to manage her oversupply. Because of that, she didn't feel as stressed. Her baby also became a super-efficient feeder. She was usually done in under 10 minutes, which meant feedings went quickly and they could do other things.
People may be surprised at how quickly your baby feeds or that you are only feeding one side. They may will say dumb things that cause you to question yourself. As long as your baby is gaining weight, you can be confident that all is well with your milk supply.
It Always Helps To Know You're Not Alone.
Throughout this time Jenny attended my weekly breastfeeding support group. She started when Hailey was 5 days old, as a followup for her appointment to learn about the oversupply issue, and it helped. There was only one other mom in the group with oversupply, but the camaraderie meant a lot to both of them. They exchanged phone numbers and became friends. They started a friendly rivalry to see who could donate more milk to the NY Milk Bank.
Jenny's supply regulated somewhere between two or three months. Hailey had become a super efficient nurser and the gagging and sputtering was mostly in the past. Sometime around six weeks, the gassiness and green poop had resolved and Hailey was producing one large yellow poop everyday. Needless to say but, Hailey was a roly-poly chubby baby! She had chins and thigh rolls upon thigh rolls!
Jenny originally planned on breastfeeding for a year. When I saw her last, Hailey was 3 and still nursing.
Jenny said, “We just love it so much! I’m going to go for as long as she wants to.”
There are so many variations of normal milk supply. Oversupply can be just as worrisome as low supply. People think all that it must be nice to have so much milk but it can be painful and stressful.
The biggest sources of support for Jenny came from meeting with several lactation consultants in the beginning and from the other moms in our breastfeeding support group. Every person held a piece of the answer and she got more advanced advice as she needed it.